Thought Experiment #45,730,944 » On growing up, change(s) and gratitude

Thought Experiment #45,730,944

A pseudophilosopher and a̶s̶p̶i̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ professional hippy's contribution to cyberspace

On growing up, change(s) and gratitude

Posted on June 14, 2016 in About, Civic Tech, Hippy-ism

tl;dr: In autumn 2016, I am relocating from Mexico City to Boston for two years. I will be studying at my dream program, Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, and RAing at the Center for Civic Media. This long post talks about the story behind this and my takeaways from it. I didn’t originally intend for this to become a series, but I eventually published a second post to talk about all the things I wish I had known (as a non-profit worker from a developing country) before sliding down the spiral of grad school applications.

The other day, someone looked me in the eye and told me, “you are one of those people that it’s impossible to get to know entirely”. This kind of shocked me: I speak so damn much, I put so much of myself out there, that I feel like my life is common property already.


The thing is that one doesn’t go around telling their life story to everyone always, yet I have found myself doing exactly that these days. These past two years, in fact. I have told this story dozens of times in the past months to convince an institution to give me an opportunity, and then try and put a big piece of personal news into perspective.


It feels like it’s time to tell it on the internet.


The big piece of personal news started cooking ten years ago when I was a sixteen-year-old high school student. Practically isolated from my peers in school (and already aware of the fact that I wanted to be an activist), I was spending my evenings online. I felt at home ‘surfing’ on UNICEF fora, early YouTube videos, my friends’ blogs, Twitter… and, especially, whenever I logged onto Second Life, a virtual reality platform where I hung out with other teenagers (and with Rafi, one of the most brilliant and kindest mentors in history), and where I ‘volunteered’ with Global Kids and UNICEF to promote engagement around children’s rights.


Back then, MySpace was a thing, but basically nobody in my offline circles knew about any of the services I just mentioned. Discourse around new media had always had negative connotations – people just went on about how the internet was full of predators, or how violent videogames were making us become. So you can imagine how shocked I was when I listened to this researcher speak about how Second Life could be positive for educational purposes.



Now, this didn’t come from another teenager. This came from a man named Henry Jenkins, a media researcher. My mom and surrounding adults didn’t believe me, but maybe they would believe him. I needed to find out more about his work! And well – it turned out that he had this blog that I religiously read (though rarely understood, to be honest), and that he had started this program at MIT where people studied videogames! Fan cultures! The Internet!


I instantly fell in love with the idea of spending four years of my life studying that, but it didn’t feel like something I could aspire to, and that’s somehow why I ended up studying philosophy at the National University here. (Four fantastic years that shaped my view of the world like nothing else I have ever experienced, but don’t ask me anything about German philosophers, because at this point I can’t even remember who died when.)


I spent my university years passionately reading about analytical epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, and desperately avoiding anything related to Hegel or postmodernity. Fairly early, I found a way to game the system: I managed to graduate with a great GPA and still be super ignorant about philosophy because I spent all of my free time volunteering and reading about technology and social change. That’s where my heart had always been, but I hadn’t found the way to incorporate that into my studies, so I had to get my fix elsewhere (though Ernesto‘s online research projects on medieval philosophy were both wacky and refreshing).


As the end of my studies approached, I started to worry about the ‘poor’ decision I had made: nobody would hire me for anything tech-for-change-related with my philosophy degree. I needed to find ways to make it work, as well as prove my worth. At this stage, my brief but intense internship at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society helped me consolidate skills from my various volunteering stints into real research and training projects. I like to joke that my happiest days at Youth and Media were when I was getting paid to research memes, but truth is that not one day has passed without me using something that Sandra taught me.


After university, after Berkman, I was back in Mexico and it felt like I was starting at square one. Except that you never are truly at square one; not for personal merit, though, but for the experiences and relationships that others have brought into your life. That year, I met two persons who were instrumental in helping me continue along that path: Luisa, who offered me my first paid job in Mexico, and who guided me as I learned about the communications challenges for activism in Mexico; and Juan Manuel, who also opened the doors of his organization and to dozens of others. By the time my work at both places ended, the number of projects I had been involved in had officially passed the 100th mark, and I had a clear mapping of the ICT for change ecosystem in Mexico and Latin America.


A combination of self-awareness, more nuanced systemic understanding of activism and a more mature view of tech and society discussions helped me find the problem I care most about: the lack of progressive institutions working on youth and media issues in Mexico at a national level. For instance: youth safety advocates always sit on the same table as criminal prosecutors, and none of the national childhood or youth organizations identify work in the development of media literacies as part of their agendas. As a result, laws criminalizing youth-produced sexual content are being passed without opposition, and educators nation-wide have yet to find a source of media literacy curricula for the classroom. This fits into a wider discussion on the relationship between technology and society: a discussion I want to help develop further in my region.


This interest led me into the UNICEF team to go back to my origins: I started coordinating the Spanish platform for Voices of Youth, the site where I spent countless hours as a teenager. It’s also the reason why I invested my entire soul into a graduate school application process twice: I now have a clearer vision of the change I want to make, and I know I won’t be able to build it alone. It’s time to find tools and allies, as well as learn from those who have walked this path before… and I have always known an address that feels to me like the right place for this.


For the wrong reasons, maybe (I’m not even into videogames anymore), but I have known it for a decade, and now it’s finally happening. So today I’m wrapping up my projects, hugging my family and friends everyday and eating as many pineapples, nopales and spicy chips as possible… and then moving back to Boston this autumn.


Now that we have ended the mystery around how I have spent my life in the last decade, you can probably see how very average it is (for someone as privileged as I am). It is One More Story of people who kind of know what they want, sort of end up in different places, and are just fortunate enough to carry on doing it. So we can move on to what is, in my opinion, the moral of the story:


They didn’t accept me for my experience; they accepted me for being a node in a solidary network of brilliant and kind people who were willing to invest their efforts into my application. And this is something that I will always be grateful for, and that I will never take for granted.


They accepted me because Miguel taught me math, Gabriel and Aliosha sat down to calm me down before I had to take the GRE, and Ana Gabriela and Olga gave me tips that were instrumental on test day.

Because the kind lady at the English testing center saved the last spot for me even if I was in a different city and I couldn’t pay her that day.

Because Rafi spent hours on Dec 31-Jan 1 reading my personal statement and mentoring me into making a stronger case.

Because Dixiana, Becki, Anca, Erika, Eliud and Simon proofread me.

Because Luisa, Ernesto, Juan C, Sandra, Kate, Erika, Nathaniel and Carla took hours out of their days in short notice to write me letters of recommendation, some of which were so genuine and kind that they still make me cry when I read them.

Because Mago, Fabrizio, Mor, Juan O, Sandra, Alejandro, Erik, Andres, David W, Eduardo and David S gave me insight on things I needed to bear in mind when writing my applications.

Because Javiera, Silvana and Anca donated hours of their lives to help me have academic samples that didn’t suck.

Because Sasha has always found time to accompany my activism from academia, and now gave me the benefit of the doubt and accepted me as his student.

Because hundreds of people made space for me in their projects, and because my family never judged me for not being there for them on weekends or evenings that I was working to make it happen.

Because more friends than could be named here put up with all the times I ranted about the process, and held me when I cried about wishing how I had known that the entire thing would quickly turn into a rollercoaster of emotions.

Because, if Henry hadn’t taken the time to talk about his work on Second Life that day, and Stephen hadn’t taken us to the Media Lab that day (when I was living with Joan, who let me stay for free at her place so I could do my Berkternship), and Andres hadn’t told me that they had a fully funded masters program, I wouldn’t have even applied.


I don’t know what life will look like for me ten years from now, but I do know that, being surrounded by such brilliant and kind people, I have a pretty good shot at making the change I want to see in Mexico and Latin America. And well: maybe random bits of me will continue to surprise friends who have known me for a lifetime, but I suspect that my story won’t be much different.


I mean, to be honest? I am just as excited about this as I was ten years ago. I have a feeling this isn’t going to change anytime soon.


(A few months later, I wrote a second post to share the things I wish I had known about grad school applications before I went down that spiral.)

2 responses

  1. Rafi Santo (Jun 14, 2016, 2:22 am)

    Mari, this was my favorite: “They didn’t accept me for my experience; they accepted me for being a node in a solidarity network of brilliant and kind people who were willing to invest their efforts into my application”.

    Because really, that’s all we ever are; one unfolding little bit of interdependence, nested in a web of mutuality and support. Your recognition of this is one of the (many) reasons that you’re wonderful, one of the (many) reasons your passion shines so true, one of the (many) reasons your work in the world will find a place, a purpose, an impact. Because you know it’s not about you, but about a history, and a future, of those committing a million small acts for a kinder world. Here’s to a million more than will come from the node named Mariel García.

  2. Noé Domínguez (Jun 16, 2016, 9:24 pm)

    Estaré pendiente de lo que sigas escribiendo Mariel :)

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